By JEAN DRISKELL, Special To The Bulletin | Published October 28, 2010
“I have been blessed in my 50 years by a variety of experiences that have enriched me beyond my wildest expectations,” said Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Carol Patron, who is celebrating her jubilee year.
At present, she ministers at the Sullivan Center, a social service organization to help people in need become self-sustaining, near Turner Field in Atlanta.
As special projects coordinator, Sister Carol helps with whatever needs to be done.
“I work part time doing administrative work, updating the mailing list, writing thank-you letters to donors,” she said.
“The center also teaches clients about finances by providing classes to help them learn to budget, provide employment skills,” she said. “And we also teach nutrition. We also have a food pantry open three days a week.”
This summer a new program called Fresh Start began “with the stimulus money we received through United Way,” she said. “We help with rent, mortgages or utilities.”
To receive these benefits, the clients have to have a child or be in foreclosure or face eviction.
“At Christmastime, clients who have completed the programs and have children are matched with individuals or churches or corporations to get toys at the toy store,” Sister Carol said. “We served over 200 families last Christmas.”
Sister Carol is also the secretary for the Atlanta Conference of Sisters in the archdiocese and is on the board for a neighborhood gardening program that started at the Sullivan Center, Enriching Community One Plot At A Time (ECOPAAT).
A native Atlantan, Sister Carol attended St. Anthony of Padua School in the West End area of Atlanta, Sacred Heart High School in Midtown Atlanta for three years, and spent her senior year in the first senior class of St. Pius X High School, graduating in 1959. In August of that year, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and was received into the novitiate in 1960 as Sister Denise Marie.
“I felt a call and desire to serve,” Sister Carol said. “I didn’t want to tell anyone and waited until my senior year in high school.”
She continued, “Church was important in my family life. Our lives centered around it. I also loved the St. Joseph sisters who taught me. They were women of wisdom and passion. I thought they were great teachers, and I wanted to be like them.”
“I was a fun-loving person in high school,” she said. “I debated about going to college, but the vocation call was too strong.”
She was strongly inspired by other sisters. “My teacher in high school math, Sister Kathleen Marie, was very affirming. I also admired Sister Marcella Meyer and Sister Roberta Sutton for their fearlessness and dedication.”
She added, “I went into the convent on blind faith. I didn’t know what to expect since there’s no motherhouse here.”
Sister Carol earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Fontbonne College in St. Louis, Mo.; a certificate of theological studies from the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, Calif.; and a master’s degree in theological studies from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley. She also became a certified massage therapist.
“I didn’t want to go into nursing,” said Sister Carol. “So I became a teacher. I found I loved my teaching career more than being a principal.”
She started her teaching career in 1965 at St. Roch’s Elementary School in Indianapolis, Ind., and she continued in teaching and as a principal at St. Francis de Sales Elementary School in Denver. In 1972, she returned to her elementary alma mater in Atlanta, St. Anthony of Padua School, as a teacher, later becoming principal in 1973.
In 1979, Sister Carol began work at the Village of St. Joseph, Atlanta, where she was lead teacher and department head. She worked with students, ages 13 to 17, who had learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and emotional problems.
“At the Village, I saw a change in my students,” she said. “I saw self-esteem develop and the ability to function in the real world. I felt a sense of pride in my students. It was like I mothered them into a new phase in their lives. I was like a proud mama.”
Sister Carol went into retreat work later. She practiced massage therapy for 11 years.
“I became interested in the holistic approach to healing,” she said.
Working in a retreat ministry for women religious she was able to incorporate this therapy, she said.
“It was a sacred experience which would open up many levels of healing for them.”
She was at Springbank Retreat Center in Kingstree, S.C., from 1995 to 2002, working on the prayer and ritual team. She taught Healing Ministry of Touch workshops and basketry, and she was office manager and in charge of the plant.
Later, from 2004 to 2007, Sister Carol was director of the Cedar Hill Enrichment Center in Dawsonville.
During her early years as a sister, the Second Vatican Council was in session. This was a time of change, and many sisters, as well as priests, left their vocations. Sister Carol stayed with her vocation.
“Vatican II opened up a world of possibilities,” she said. “It was exciting to learn about our charism, our roots, and how we were meant to serve the ‘dear neighbor’ in any way a woman is capable of doing. This is why we were founded.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet were founded in 1836 when the first bishop of St. Louis asked for sisters to teach those who were deaf and mute. In 1837 a school for deaf students was established, and the St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf is still in operation today.
“I also stayed because I felt a deeper bond within our community,” Sister Carol said. “We were exploring our role in the church and what we were called to do and to expand our ministries in new directions.”
Living in right relationship is important in her order.
“This means right relationship with the church, with each other in community, with the ‘dear neighbor’ whom we serve, and right relationship with all of creation,” she said.
“Though there have been rocky times, I have found laughter a great strength to me,” Sister Carol said. “I also have found this to be a good life for me, and I feel I’ve been good at it and blessed by it.”